Competence to enact responsible practices, such as recycling waste or boycotting irresponsible companies, is core to learning for responsibility. We explore the role of apps in learning such responsible practices ‘in the wild,’ outside formal educational environments over a 3-week period. Learners maintained a daily diary in which they reflected on their learning of responsible practices with apps. Through a thematic analysis of 557 app mentions in the diaries, we identified five types of app-agency: cognitive, action, interpersonal, personal development, and material. Findings were interpreted from an actor-network perspective using the lens of ‘translation.’ To understand how apps enabled the learning of responsible practices, we analyzed app agency throughout four moments of translation: problematization, interessement, enrolment, and mobilization. Based on our analysis of how students’ app mentions changed over time, we further theorize learning as a sequence of subtranslations that form the larger translation process: learning as translation(s). Each subtranslation cycle is centered on enrolling a different set of human and nonhuman actors, with their competence, into the network. We contribute to the learning for responsibility field by showcasing how app-enabled learning may create real-life actor networks enacting responsibility, and by priming an actor-network pedagogy for ‘learning in the wild.’ We also contribute to the actor-network learning discussion by conceptualizing heterogeneous human–nonhuman competence and the first processual model of learning as translation(s).
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Student names are anonymized and presented with a phrase describing the responsible practices they learn.
Student diaries and surveys were not only a means of data collection but also fulfilled the equally important pedagogical function of providing reflective spaces, a key element of self-directed learning projects.
The analysis of data relied on unique techniques and methodological assumptions of theories of practices and of actor network theory. These included a flat ontology (Latour 2005; Schatzki 2016), avoiding hierarchies and ex-ante dualisms (McLean and Hassard 2004), and analytical practices of zooming in and out as well as punctualization and blackboxing (Cressman 2009; Law 1992; Nicolini 2009).
Repeatedly we found mentions of what apps did not do. One might consider such app limitations as impediments to the learning process. However, our reading of most of these instances is that app limitations prompted students to engage in further construction of their actor network by enrolling for alternative apps or actors with the required competence.
Lilly (vegetarianism) and Carlos (responsible consumption) did not mention the app in the last week of their projects, making it reasonable to assume that the app had not become a permanent part of their heterogeneous competence.
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Conflict of interest
Oliver Laasch, Dirk C. Moosmayer, and Frithjof Arp declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaratio± its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Assignment Instructions for Leaners
This assignment is centered on an experiential learning project (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiential_education), which will be carried out before we meet in person during the three-day seminar. Your experience with living practices related to a sustainable, responsible or ethical lifestyle over a period of 21 days will be the core piece of your learning. In preparation of our meetings, I would ask you to please do the following things:
Understand the assignment: Please attend the brief introduction session. It will serve to give you further instructions regarding the experiential learning project, to discuss your more detailed and personal questions, and to get everything ready for your learning project to start.
Choose a responsible practice: Your experiential learning of a responsible practice will be guided by the use of a smartphone app (e.g., for saving energy, sustainable transportation, eating vegan,…). Please have a look at the indicative list, which outlines areas of practices and exemplary apps, chose one topic and define a learning goal you want to achieve.
Get the app(s) ready: Download (a) relevant app(s) you would like to use. Please make sure it works on your phone. Once you have done so, please let us know which practice, app(s), and learning goal you have chosen. To ensure variety, there will be only one student per practice. First come, first served.
Start your learning journey: Start your learning diary in your personal (you and the course instructor have access) password-protected blog site (https://liveagoodlifeweb.wordpress.com/about/). As first diary entry, please mention A) the practice you have chosen (e.g., climate friendly personal transportation, or using sustainable cosmetics) and why you have chosen it B) the app(s) you intend to use and why, and C) your ‘competence goal’ (e.g., “I want to be competent to have zero-carbon impact from my transportation” or “I want to become competent to use only sustainable cosmetics”).
Daily reflection on your learning: Every day for 21 days, reflect on your learning practice in brief daily entries, each of at least 150 words length. These should cover contents from the following themes:
Experience: Your recent activity and experience related to your practice and app(s).
Learnings: What learning and/or development have you achieved through this experience? If you think you haven’t learnt anything during the last day, reflect on why not.
Learning events: How have you realized this learning? For instance, you could describe an anecdote of an ‘aha moment’ or of an event that made you learn.
Others: Whatever else you consider worth mentioning.
Final reflection and presentation: Summarize your learning experience in a final blog entry, which also serves as the basis for your presentation during out face-to-face sessions. Make sure its contents cover your experience, learnings, learning events, the role of the app, recommendations for fellow students who might want to learn to practice the same lifestyle, and how you could apply the lifestyle in your future professional life.
We recommend instructors who want to apply this assignment in their courses to familiarize themselves with the principles of the following related methods:
relying on self-directed learning (Candy 1991);
Given the self-directed nature of the assignment, the instructor provided a list with areas of responsible practices, and potentially helpful apps, but left the final choice of which apps to use and of the particular learning goal to the learner. Vetting apps’ quality and their usefulness for the learning process was not a preparation for the learning process, but a continuous aspect of the learning process itself.
A key aspect for this learning design to be effective is the instructor’s assumption of an enabling role who supports learners to set up their learning projects before the first day of the project. From Day 1 on, the instructor becomes a vigilant observer leaving students to steer their own learning process. The instructor is meant to only intervene when it becomes necessary in order to ensure that the learning and reflection process keeps going.
The reflective diary is the instructor’s core instrument for fulfilling this role. A good practice was to touch base in a non-judgmental way with learners who had not written a diary entry for at least two days. Such messages’ content was aimed at positively reinforcing learners’ past reflections and asking them to continue the story.
The unusual nature of the educational design might also lead to occasional challenges. For instance, one student resigned from the course before it started as she believed a sustainable life is one lived without a smartphone. Learning practices with a smartphone was against her values. Some students first were afraid that travel or personal commitments (e.g., weddings, peak times at work) might make the interruption of their learning project necessary. However, they were able to integrate their responsible lifestyles learning into these important episodes of their lives; after all that is what the learning project is meant to be about (see Table 1).
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Laasch, O., Moosmayer, D.C. & Arp, F. Responsible Practices in the Wild: An Actor-Network Perspective on Mobile Apps in Learning as Translation(s). J Bus Ethics 161, 253–277 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04214-8